For most individuals, using nail polish remover on a cold sore is generally safe and should not cause any long-term ill effects. Those who have never used acetone-based remover should test an area of skin first to ensure a rare allergic reaction doesn't occur. Nail polish remover should not be applied too close to the eyes and it should not be ingested.
Using nail polish remover to treat a cold sore is usually considered a home remedy. Many individuals swear by this method, although there are similar tactics using less harsh substances. The premise behind this treatment is that the polish remover dries out the cold sore more quickly than would occur without using any form of treatment. It is important to perform this remedy correctly to avoid injury or skin irritation.
When using nail polish remover on the skin, it important to use a small amount. It is generally applied using a cotton swab, which can be dipped into the solution and then applied directly to the affected area. This is only recommended for areas of skin that are away from the eyes, genitals, and other sensitive areas. Genital herpes-related lesions, which are similar to cold sores and form due to a similar viral infection, should not be treated this way. This especially important when sores occur on the genitals themselves.
A low-fume polish remover should be used, and treatment should be performed in a well-ventilated area. Hands should be washed thoroughly both before and after treatment to avoid getting remover in the eyes. The mouth should be kept closed during application to ensure that no remover is ingested. It is not a good idea to perform this treatment on a cold sore that is inflamed, oozing, or bleeding. If burning or pain occurs, the area should be rinsed with cool water.
While the risk of complications is low, using nail polish remover on a cold sore is not recommended by any particular medical association or establishment. Sores that do not clear up after a week or that become infected should be examined by a medical professional. Gentler treatments are available in the form of over-the-counter ointments and creams. Toothpaste, rubbing alcohol, and antibacterial ointments can also be used as home remedies to help cold sores heal more quickly.